French-door versus side-by-side refrigerators: What's the difference
What’s the difference between these popular alternatives to a top-freezer refrigerator?
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If you're looking to move beyond a basic (or "top-freezer") refrigerator, then you're probably browsing a French-door or a side-by-side. Home designers have long favored them because of their sleek lines and general eye appeal.
French-door and side-by-side fridges are not inherently better than any other style of fridge, nor are they worse. But they are, in fact, quite different from each other. So before you fall in love with the look of a fridge, be sure you understand how it functions, because your kitchen happiness could hinge on it.
The styles of refrigerators
Before getting into specific features, it's good to be able to simply recognize the various fridge types by their shape. There are four main styles of refrigerators. Top-freezers are efficient and inexpensive but tend not to have many features and are somewhat lacking in the aesthetics department. See our Best Top-freezer refrigerators.
Bottom-freezers are just the reverse of a top-freezer, but the freezer draws pulls out like a drawer rather than a swinging door.
Side-by-side refrigerators place the refrigerator and freezer next to one another, each spanning the top to the bottom of the unit. The fridge is typically larger, so the door is slightly off-of-center. See our Best Side-by-side Refrigerators.
French-door refrigerators are arranged like a bottom-freezer, but with two refrigerator doors that open from the center-out, in the style of a French door. See our Best French-door Refrigerators.
Unlike dishwashers and ovens, which are quite standardized in their dimensions, all refrigerator styles vary in width, height, and depth. If you're replacing an existing fridge and need it to fit a cut-out, measure carefully. And of course, this list doesn't cover built-in water and ice dispensers or specialty fridges like under-counter, wine fridges, or those that need to be professionally installed into cabinetry.
Of all the refrigerator styles, French-door seems to find itself the most amenable to imaginative redesign. Likely due to its growing popularity, brands have introduced several variations that play around with the number and arrangement of compartments.
A basic French-door fridge has three doors, but there are now several four-door and even five-door models to choose from. On the Samsung RF28R7351SG, for example, a smaller, full-width drawer above the freezer called the "FlexZone Drawer" can be set to four different tempertures for storing deli, soft drinks, meat, and wine. The Frigidaire Gallery FG4H2272UF and LG LMXS30776S have a similar drawer that can double as fridge or freezer.
Another variation is the quadrant style. Haier, Samsung, Frigidaire, and LG have all experimented with this design. In this configuration, the freezer is actually two separate compartments, which will likely necessitate some creative food sorting on your part.
The rarest and perhaps most extreme iteration of the French-door is a five-door model. Whether it connotes the ultimate in food storage or just overdesign is, of course, up to you.
Virtually all side-by-side refrigerators are the same design. While they vary in height, width, and depth, the arrangement doesn't vary. The freezer, as far as we can determine, is always on the left and the fridge is always on the right.
Pros and cons: French-door
French-door fridges are on the upswing, growing in market share each year. As such, there are a lot of options to choose from.
- Wide shelves for food items, including pizza boxes and baking trays
- Wide range of size, finish, and feature options
- Puts all refrigerator items at eye level
- Typically the most expensive type of freestanding (non-install) refrigerator
- Freezer is smaller than French-door and not at eye level
- Limited food organization options in freezer
Pros and cons: Side-by-side
- Much of the freezer food at eye level
- Larger freezer space
- Typically less expensive
- Narrow shelf space may present problems for frozen pizzas and baking trays
- Requires bending over to access parts of both fridge and freezer
- Because of their size, the temperatures in the fridge and freezer will vary more greatly from top to bottom
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.